Behind the Walls: The Strafford County Jail Family Reception Center

By Donna Coriaty

Family Reception Center“My life changed forever on the night my ‘loved one’ was arrested.” For some this statement is underscored with a sigh of relief that their loved one is finally off the streets and beginning the long road to recovery. For most it is change accompanied by guilt, confusion, embarrassment and isolation.

For many this is the first time that a person close to them has been arrested. The TV crime drama has become reality and they are in the center of it. Contrary to popular belief all those arrested do not come from broken or dysfunctional homes. However, the stress of detention can certainly damage families and relationships. Previously supportive friends and neighbors turn away because they just don’t know what to say.

In March 2003, having experienced the incarceration of a loved one, a former employee of the Strafford County Jail, with the blessings of County Administration, established the Family Reception Center. The Center is supported financially through grants and donations and staffed by volunteers. In the years that I have volunteered at the Center I have seen many broken individuals receive the information and support they need to lessen the impact experienced through incarceration.

Family Reception Center 1A couple of years after I began volunteering at the Family Reception Center I had the opportunity to visit the State Prison. Outside it was a bright spring day but that changed as I entered the prison waiting room. The overcrowded area was dark and dingy in stark contrast to the brightly decorated welcoming area at Strafford County. There were no racks of beneficial information, refreshments needed after a long drive or a friendly greeting. There no toys or books to keep the innocent children amused.

As I waited to go through security with the other visitors I noticed a petite woman wearing jeans and a hoodie enter the building. She looked sad and confused as she spoke to anyone who would listen. “This is my first visit here to see my son. What do I do?” A few people pointed to the officer seated behind the scratched pexiglass window. As the woman numbly slid her license and keys through the window opening the Officer noted, “No hoodies allowed inside.” A look of panic came across her face as she removed the hoodie revealing a tank top and he added, “No tank tops allowed.” As she looked around with tears in her eyes another visitor handed her a sweater. Finally she could visit her son. I thought of the clothing we keep at the Family Reception center for moments like this. Visits are always difficult; dress requirements albeit necessary shouldn’t add to the humiliation and stress.

Easter Baskets 2I remember the elderly grandmother who came each week with her two school age grandchildren to visit their mother, her only daughter. Her stooped body always appeared so tired. After their visits she and the children would stop by the Center located in the lobby of the jail for refreshments. As we chatted I learned that when her daughter was arrested she took a bus from South Carolina to take care of the children. Not only had she left her extended family and friends behind but she had not told them the reason for coming north. She was too embarrassed! During our weekly visits, I would gently encourage her to reach out to her family back in SC. Finally, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving she did; her sister was coming to help. I can still hear the excitement in her voice as she thanked me for “being there.”

“Being there” may be the most important role of a volunteer at the Center. “Being there” with a smile, a kind word, a hug; “being there” with helpful information and resources to improve the situation that families’ face and assisting them through the seemingly endless reams of red tape.   “Being there” for the children providing a friendly atmosphere and maybe a small, stuffed friend to take home reminding them they are not alone.   “Being there” hosting a BBQ for families in the spring, filling Easter and Thanksgiving baskets, wrapping gifts and assisting Santa distribute them at the annual Christmas Party.

Corrections Officers at the Strafford County Jail support our “being there” and have often commented on the positive effect the Family Reception Center has on the inmates. Knowing there are people at the Jail that respect and care for their families encourages successful behavior.

Some who visited the Family Reception Center as guests have returned as volunteers. They know firsthand the importance of “being there.”

Donna outside the NH Supreme Court in January 2015
Donna outside the NH Supreme Court in January 2015

In the brief essay, “Until it comes to your door,” the author laments the lack of compassion often shown to families and friends of the incarcerated. “They do not know this journey that we share as causalities to the varying scenarios that brought our loved ones to incarceration. And oddly enough having once sat in that seat of innocent ignorance and condescendence what they really do not know, is that it can happen to anyone, even them.”

It is said that often those we help turn out to be healers for us, showing us important spiritual lessons that we can apply to our own situations. So it is with those who interact at the Strafford County Jail Family Reception Center. While the volunteers strive to reinforce the visitors’ dignity they are inspired by the resilience of the human spirit. Ultimately, we are all reminded that judgment must be replaced by mercy because no one knows what adversity is behind our next door.

Donna Coriaty is a member of NHCADP. 

“Behind the Walls” is a series of articles featuring members who have worked with prisoners or their families. We hope to shed light on the lives that most people never see or think about.

(Video) Death Penalty Forum at UNH Law April 8

On April 8, the Rudman Center at UNH Law School in Concord hosted a moderated forum of perspectives on both sides of the death penalty issue. Rep. Renny Cushing and Attorney Andru Volinksy spoke on the side of repeal, while Attorney Charles Douglas III and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro spoke for retaining the death penalty. About 100 people attended. Many questions from the audience were addressed. The event offered an insightful glimpse into many facets of the struggle to end capital punishment in our state. Watch the full event below.

Many thanks to the Rudman Center Student Board, especially Lyndsay Robinson (JD ’17) and staffperson Dellie Champagne for organizing the evening.

Catholic publications call for end to capital punishment

Christian Gohl holds a sign during a Jan. 28, 2014, vigil outside St. Louis University College Church ahead the execution of Missouri death-row inmate Herbert Smulls of St. Louis. Smulls was executed after midnight Jan. 29. (CNS/St. Louis Review/Lisa Johnston)


Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Glossip v. Gross, a case out of Oklahoma that challenges the most widely used lethal injection protocol as being cruel and unusual punishment.The court took up the case in January after a year of three high-profile, problematic executions in three states. The court will likely issue a ruling by June. Our hope is that it will hasten the end of the death penalty in the United States.Archbishop Thomas Wenski, of Miami, and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, praised the decision saying, “… the use of the death penalty devalues human life and diminishes respect for human dignity. We bishops continue to say, we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.” The chair of the Pro-Life Activities committee, Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, also praised the court’s decision to hear the case. “Society can protect itself in ways other than the use of the death penalty,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “We pray that the Court’s review of these protocols will lead to the recognition that institutionalized practices of violence against any person erode reverence for the sanctity of every human life. Capital punishment must end.”We, the editors of four Catholic journals — AmericaNational Catholic RegisterNational Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor — urge the readers of our diverse publications and the whole U.S. Catholic community and all people of faith to stand with us and say, “Capital punishment must end.”

The Catholic church in this country has fought against the death penalty for decades. Pope St. John Paul II amended the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church to include a de facto prohibition against capital punishmentLast year, Pope Francis called on all Catholics “to fight … for the abolition of the death penalty.” The practice is abhorrent and unnecessary. It is also insanely expensive as court battles soak up resources better deployed in preventing crime in the first place and working toward restorative justice for those who commit less heinous crimes.

Admirably, Florida has halted executions until the Supreme Court rules, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has postponed all seven executions in the state scheduled for 2015 pending further study. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty until he has received and reviewed a task force’s report on capital punishment, which he called “a flawed system … ineffective, unjust, and expensive.” Both governors also cited the growing number of death row inmates who have been exonerated nationwide in recent years.

In a statement thanking Wolf, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said: “Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. … But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living. When we take a guilty person’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture and we demean our own dignity in the process.”

Archbishop Chaput reminds us that when considering the death penalty, we cannot forget that it is we, acting through our government, who are the moral agents in an execution. The prisoner has committed his crime and has answered for it in this life just as he shall answer for it before God. But it is the government, acting in our name, that orders and perpetrates lethal injection. It is we who add to, instead of heal, the violence.

Advocates of the death penalty often claim that it brings closure to a victim’s family. But advocates who walk with the families of victims, like Mercy Sister Camille D’Arienzo, tell a different story.

“I think of mothers who attend our annual service for Families and Friends of Murder Victims,” a program the Mercy sisters have sponsored for 18 years. “Asked what they want for their children’s killers, no one asks for the death penalty,” she said. “Their reason: ‘I wouldn’t want another mother to suffer what I have suffered.’ Their hearts, though broken, are undivided in their humanity.”

The facts of the case in Oklahoma — which echo reports from Ohio and Arizona — were especially egregious. Last April, the drug protocol failed in the execution of Clayton Lockett. Lockett moaned in pain before authorities suspended the execution; he would die of a heart attack later that night. Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said at the time, “The execution of Clayton Lockett really highlights the brutality of the death penalty, and I hope it leads us to consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether.”

The Supreme Court has agreed with Archbishop Coakley and will consider the issue. We join our bishops in hoping the court will reach the conclusion that it is time for our nation to embody its commitment to the right to life by abolishing the death penalty once and for all.

link to original article

In this case, silence is the golden rule

by Ray Duckler, Concord Monitor, Friday January 16, 2015
(Link to original)

MHawthorn-ConcMon 1.15.15
GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Margaret Hawthorn of Rindge, who lost her daughter to homicide in 2010, stands outside the New Hampshire Supreme Court during the half hour silent vigil Thursday.

Sometimes, a half-hour of silence says a lot.

Take yesterday, for example, in front of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. No one said a word from 8:45 to 9:15 a.m., yet the voices were loud and clear, varied in their reasoning, common in their goal.

Some members of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty believe execution solves nothing. Others worry about state hypocrisy, that killing killers is wrong. Still others use the mercy rule, the one about forgiveness and spiritual growth, the one about loving thy neighbor, even if that neighbor has killed a husband and father, in this case, a cop.

They gathered outside, 22 of them, in nose-running cold and held their silent vigil, trying to bring attention to the hearing inside. There, a fireplace roared like a postcard and the state’s highest court heard testimony in Michael Addison’s appeal.

Addison killed Officer Michael Briggs in a dark Manchester alley Oct. 16, 2006. Briggs, then 35, had approached Addison, a suspect in a recent crime spree. Addison shot once, hitting Briggs in the head.

Addison has since been convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die, the state’s first death sentence in more than 50 years. New Hampshire’s last execution happened in 1939.

We knew the appeals process and the protests and the differing points of view would surface after the trial, and that’s precisely what’s happened.

The justices upheld Addison’s conviction in 2013. Now comes the part about proportionality, the word of the day in court yesterday. The justices must measure the fairness of Addison’s sentence when compared with the reasoning behind other death sentences across the country.

To those I spoke to, though, comparisons were a waste of time, because this punishment should never be carried out, here, there, or anywhere.

“The loss of Officer Briggs was horrible, but execution does not make it any better,” said John Tobin, the executive director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

Tobin is part of the unmistakable irony connected to this issue, a victim of violent crime who, more than anybody, would be expected to seek revenge, but who, instead, pushes hard the other way.

Tobin’s sister was murdered during a robbery more than 30 years ago in South Africa. The man convicted was put to death, yet there was Tobin, shivering outside, relaying a message, showing compassion.

“The execution didn’t make me feel any better,” Tobin said.

Margaret Hawthorn of Rindge was there too, holding a sign that read, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

Hawthorn’s daughter, Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall, was shot and killed during a home invasion in Henniker in 2010. The killer, a Haitian immigrant who told a fellow inmate that he went to the home to rape Molly, was sentenced to 42 years.

Molly was nearing a degree in nursing. Her father, Bruce MacDougall, told me by phone that she loved gardening, studied pottery in Japan and sang a lot.

Margaret, meanwhile, lobbied lawmakers to repeal the death penalty after her daughter’s death. She failed, but she’s still trying.

“We all come about it from different places, but this has to do with respecting human life,” Hawthorn told me. “Knowing this from the day she died, I made a statement to the press that we would not turn to hatred or make room for vengeance. It’s self protective more than anything else. If we allowed that to find room in our hearts, we would be in a place we never could get out of emotionally.

“Vengeance is never sweet,” Hawthorn continued. “It always has a way of kicking you in the teeth, so don’t go there.”

While people like Hawthorn and Tobin shared their tragic stories outside, Andru Volinksy, a fellow coalition member and commercial litigator, sat inside, in the third row, showing support for the defense team of David Rothstein and Chris Johnson as they tried to save Addison’s life.

Reached by phone before the hearing, Volinsky told me that the attorney general at the time of the Addison trial, Kelly Ayotte, failed to show that Addison had intentionally killed Briggs, nor did she show that Addison would be a danger while incarcerated.

“And we’re going to kill him nonetheless?” Volinksy asked.

He cited the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of Addison’s sentence. Why did John Brooks of Derry get a life sentence for his murder-for-hire conviction in 2008? Why not death, like Addison got?

“It’s clear the middle-age wealthy white male who was prosecuted for capital murder at that same time got life,” Volinsky said. “He hired a contract killer. The defendant’s wealth and race should not be factors.”

Volinsky also mentioned his moral beliefs, that the state has no business killing someone in the name of justice. That served as the vigil’s main message as well.

Coalition members stood in two lines, perpendicular from one another, holding signs that read, “Execute justice, not people,” and “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong,” and “An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.”

They held their signs and stood in silence, and when the half-hour ended, they formed a circle and introduced themselves.

Minutes later, Hawthorn and Tobin, two victims, met for the first time.

“I have found the most peace while doing this,” Hawthorn said.

“I know what you mean,” was all Tobin said, on a day of very few words.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Gov. Perry’s enduring stain

By Stephen Saloom

gov-rick-perryAs his term ends, Gov. Perry’s legacy will be greatly debated. His supporters will say he was a great conservative, upholder of morality and master of political control. His detractors will examine the other sides of those coins. There is room for great debate.

One thing, however, cannot be debated. Perry wrongly affirmed Texas’ killing of an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham.

What’s worse is that when evidence of his error emerged from various corners, he ignored it – and at times, actively sought to suppress it.

As we consider Perry’s legacy, and his qualities as a candidate for higher office, this major element of his tenure must be considered.

The wrongful conviction and execution of Willingham began with a fire that broke out while he and his little girls were asleep. He woke up amidst flames and ran out — then realized that his three little girls were trapped inside. They died.

Arson investigators concluded that the fire had been set. A jailhouse informant said Willingham confided that he intentionally killed his children. Willingham’s defense lawyer was unable — and potentially even uninterested — to meet the challenge.

Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death.

Appellate courts found no legal errors. Before the execution date, however, the Willingham family learned of scientific evidence disproving the arson evidence and directed this new evidence to the Governor. He heads the clemency process, which is meant to be the fail-safe against such injustices.

The Willinghams sought a temporary reprieve from the execution. It was based on the report of one of the world’s top fire scientists (a Texan, no less), which explained why the arson evidence used was completely unreliable. The Willinghams informed Perry’s staff about the report and their impending request for a temporary reprieve to enable close scrutiny of that now-questioned evidence.

Perry received the expert with plenty of time and justification to grant a temporary reprieve — but he chose not to. Willingham was executed.

Public questions began to arise. There was a comparison of the Texas court’s handling of Willingham’s arson/murder conviction versus that of Ernest Willis, who had been convicted and sentenced to death in an arson case strikingly similar to that of Willingham. In Willis’ case, however, when the prosecutor learned of the new arson science, he moved to vacate the conviction. Because that evidence was recognized in his case, Willis was declared innocent and lives today.

The radically different dispositions in these similar arson cases gave rise to a review by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which, in light of today’s science, found it “untenable” to support arson findings based on such evidence.

In fact, the Texas Fire Marshal is now investigating past arson cases, and Attorney General Greg Abbott affirmed their propriety. On a related note, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently affirmed the Texas Legislature’s new law, which allows courts to reconsider discredited forensic evidence.

The arson evidence against Willingham was undeniably misleading. The only other “evidence” of Willingham’s guilt was jailhouse snitch testimony. The informant has now – again – said that his evidence was a lie, offered only because he had been (secretly) promised leniency. Prosecutorial misconduct has now been claimed.

Mr. Willingham’s innocence has now been well established. Since Mr. Willingham has already been executed, however, it is not the courts but Perry — and the Board of Pardons and Paroles he politically controls — who have the unique power to clear his name.

When presented with an application for that pardon, however, Perry refused to accept a visit from the surviving family members, who have politely but steadfastly sought justice for decades. Perry’s board’s denial of pardon was unexplained, yet conveniently spared him from having to act on it.

As his tenure came to a close, Perry had a clear opportunity to enable the pardon of Willingham. Instead he spun on his heel and walked away, refusing to acknowledge in any way his government’s terrible wrong.

Perry claims to be a conservative, religious and moral leader. As we consider his legacy, however, and his potential fitness for higher office, we must soberly assess his role in this injustice that he uniquely perpetuated.

Saloom is former policy director at the Innocence Project.

 Originally published 1/3/15 in the Austin American-Stateseman


[Video-Pix] NH’s World Day Event

Former NH Attorney General speaks powerfully — both personally and professionally — about why he came around to oppose the death penalty. From NHCADP’s 10.10.2014 World Day Against the Death Penalty event, Concord NH:

Lincoln Caplan, visiting professor at Yale Law School and former member of the NYTimes editorial board, speaks at our World Day event about “The Death Penalty v. The Constitution.”

#nodeathpenalty — a few photos from the event (click for larger images)